FOCUS – Balancing the Word and service
In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, the Nobel laureate and Archbishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa, Desmond Tutu, provides some sage advice for those seeking ministry in today’s world. He notes that the promotion of a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation is central to a community of peace and healing and writes, “It’s a risky undertaking, but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end there will be real healing, from having dealt with the real situation.” Archbishop Tutu is widely regarded as one of the chief architects of the peaceful transition from the “nightmare called apartheid” to the democratically elected government of Nelson Mandela.
Our world today frequently resembles gradients of the injustice, oppression and marginalization of the people seen in South Africa until 1994. Rev. Tutu’s salient point is that if people are to live together in peace, the Church in general—and leaders in particular—must be prepared to transcend society’s pain, and seek doorways to relationships. Not only will his advice keep communities together, it will bring and keep people in contact with the Gospel, and the Body of Christ.
As the newly commissioned officers enter full-time ministry under the flag of the Army, they will be appointed to communities where many feel battered by the polarization of societal issues. Officers and soldiers today are continually confronted with the churches’ response to the growing moral arguments of same-sex marriages, the ordination of openly gay church leaders and unmarried couples living together. The widening gap between conservative and liberal political values distances people from one another, and increased tension between the divergent religious beliefs builds walls that preclude evangelization. But these are not just issues that require theoretical answers; they represent people who need deeper relationships with their Heavenly Father, even if they don’t acknowledge that He exists.
Fortunately, the new captains will emerge from two years of training school steeped in a tradition of tangible service that has attempted to unify communities for almost 140 years. The new officers will also know that experts often point to three factors that seem to be present in a growing church: first, the pastor preaches the Word, both law and grace; second, the pastor delivers the message in a language people can understand and find relevant to their lives; third, all the members see themselves as responsible and accountable for spreading the faith by whatever means God in his providence gives them.
I saw the effects of a balance of the Word and service bringing about community healing, when I attended services in an outpost situated in a house in a gated Muslim community. A house, it was pointed out, that was dedicated to the Lord. Traditionally, Indonesia has had some of the highest levels of Christian persecution in the world. But in this community the Imam allows the work of the Army to continue, even to the extent that ministry announcements are made on the Mosque loudspeakers. This came about because the Army in that community sought to make itself known by acts of love through service and respect. That propelled healing and relationships to be built.
During the service, one young man gave his testimony. He said he grew up in a “fanatic Muslim” family. He was introduced to the Bible through his girlfriend, now his wife. He questioned his newfound faith, knowing that his family hated Christians. He feared rejection, isolation and persecution. But, “my wife and I prayed hard. God has protected me, even when I face my family. I know there is no salvation without Jesus, and it is that, that I seek for my family.” Evangelical Muslim converts staying in their communities to pursue Kingdom building is a result of a ministry that sought to build reconciling relationships among people who need to hear and see the Gospel–communities of people much like ours.
My young friend from Indonesia symbolically reminded me of the final element of a growing church and effective ministry. He felt compelled to change his name from a culturally Muslim name to one that depicts his heart’s desire. He changed his name to Hassan Daniel, because he said, he wanted to have the faith of Daniel.